The Utica High School football team needs to get plenty of mileage out of juniors Scott Cline and Jason Hoar if it hopes to duplicate or perhaps even surpass last year's success.
That's especially true given the losses to graduation and the fact that the Redskins -- who finished 7-3 overall last season and missed what would have been their first playoff berth since 2000 by one spot -- have only two returning letterwinners among their nine seniors.
Cline, who will punt and placekick in addition to playing key roles both offensively and defensively, and Hoar, a third-year starting quarterback who is playing through a nagging thumb injury, seem up to the challenge.
"We've got 51 kids out, and they're in our top six when it comes to strength testing," said coach Randy Felumlee, whose team opens Friday at Grandview.
Cline (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) will be one of the top receivers as the Redskins enter their third season running the spread offense, a change that dates to the arrival of Hoar (5-9, 160). Cline made Division IV second-team all-district, and he'll also play safety on defense.
Hoar completed 104 of his 199 pass attempts (52.2 percent) for 1,340 yards, and he made first-team all-district playing the other safety spot. Cline also is the backup quarterback.
Felumlee said Hoar, Cline and junior Justin Newsome (5-7, 150) are among the team's fastest players as well.
"I know I've got to stay in shape," Cline said with a laugh. "I'll be out there a lot, but I'm looking forward to it. I've got a chance to help the team in a lot of ways and I'm going to do my best."
Hoar, who threw for 1,386 yards as a freshman, will wear a protective device on his thumb and is expected to have surgery after the season.
"As he goes, we go," Felumlee said.
The Redskins nearly earned an 11th game last fall as they finished ninth (14.25 points) in Region 15 despite starting 1-2, which included unsettling road losses against Granville (49-7) and Heath (33-0) in consecutive weeks. Hartley was eighth in the region with 14.569 points to earn the final spot.
One of 36 teams state-wide to miss they playoffs with a 7-3 record, Utica recovered to win six of their final seven games and jumped into the postseason picture with a 27-17 home victory in the eighth week over Fredericktown, which was 6-1 entering that contest.
Utica then closed with two more victories, shutting out Centerburg 29-0 in the finale. The Redskins went 6-1 to place second in the MBC behind Johnstown, which defeated them 27-21 in overtime in week seven.
"We did some good things last year," Cline said. "It's a new year, though, and we really want to take things farther."
Part of Hoar's protection will come from offensive linemen Creston Gray (5-8, 195) and Derek Posey (5-11, 175), who are the two returning senior letterwinners. Posey will play a guard spot as Gray moves from guard to center. The line is one of the question marks entering the season, although it's not necessarily from a lack of depth. Felumlee hopes to rotate in as many as nine players, but he said he's struggling to find the five with the best chemistry. Also look for senior Adam Walton and juniors Levi Boyd, Connor Mulligan and Clinton Daniels, among others.
Newsome, who played in place of an injured Jerrod Ours a year ago, returns at tailback. The fullback will be classmate Ryan Combs (5-11, 180), and junior Austin Brown (5-9, 135) is another receiver to watch. He'll also line up as a flanker or split end, but Felumlee said he's still looking for a tight end and is trying to develop depth at receiver.
Ours graduated as did running back Kenny Poland, and other key losses included Ethan Bremer, Joie Caplin, Michael Sandman and B.J. Douglas. Bremer (fullback), Sandman (tight end), Caplin (offensive line) and Douglas (defensive line) all were second-team all-district.
Caplin and Bremer also were three-year starters at linebacker. Combs and Posey are among those ready to step in. Joining Hoar and Cline in the defensive secondary are sophomores Artie Douglas (5-7, 125) and Clay Rowley (5-9, 155) and Newsome. The defensive line also will feature Walton and junior nose guard Kaleb Messina (5-5, 146), among others, but Felumlee said he does have a couple of 300-pounders he could bring in for a bigger look in short-yardage situations.
The Redskins will play all three teams they lost to last year at home this fall, including Johnstown on Oct. 9.
"Until somebody beats them Johnstown's the favorite (in the MBC). They've played in a lot of close games the past couple of years and they always seem to win them. That's why they're the two-time champs," said Felumlee, who is 109-95 entering his 21st season at Utica. "Loudonville and East Knox are vastly improved, and I'd watch out for Fredericktown, which is returning a lot from an 8-2 team."